OnPolitics: Mar-a-Lago search prompted surge of threats toward FBI, law enforcement

Hey there, OnPolitics readers!

President Joe Biden's vast foreign policy experience was supposed to be his biggest strength.

Then came the horrific video of civilians clinging to a U.S. military plane as it lifted off from the Kabul airport, the collapse of Afghanistan’s government and a terror attack that killed 13 American soldiers and at least 170 Afghans less than seven months into his presidency.

The chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan, ending a 20-year conflict, undercut Biden’s pledge to restore competence to the White House. A year later, it hangs over the Democratic president, even as his counterterrorism strategy yields consequential results with the July 30 killing of top al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri last month.

Biden's approval rating fell below 50% for the first time after the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban's return to power. His standing still hasn't recovered amid a convergence of other crises, including 40-year-high inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, the extended COVID-19 pandemic and the spread of monkeypox.

"It damaged what were relatively good feelings toward him," Thomas Alan Schwartz, a distinguished professor of history at Vanderbilt University, said of the Afghanistan exit. "It was a self-inflicted wound."

It's Ella and Amy with today's top stories out of Washington.

Mar-a-Lago search spurred threats toward FBI, law enforcement

Even before the FBI executed a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, the ex-president's supporters on the far-right, who had spent a year after the Jan. 6 insurrection quietly stewing, began ramping up threats.

But since Trump announced last week that the FBI had raided him, across the internet, experts on extremism have seen a spike in violent and hateful rhetoric toward the federal government in general and the FBI specifically. Given the potentially limitless reach of internet pundits, whose message can connect with even one lone person prone to violence, they worry the possibility of attacks will only increase.

“We haven’t seen this level of real mobilization to potential violence since the mid-90s,” said Javed Ali, associate professor of practice at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and a former senior counterterrorism official at DHS. “This is really disturbing, and I know firsthand from my colleagues back at the FBI that they’re taking this as seriously as they should be — it’s very upsetting to them.”

Mar-a-Lago updates: What don’t we know about the classified documents taken from Trump’s Florida property? Well, for starters, we don’t know why Trump removed the documents from the White House in the first place. Trump has not explained, and investigators have not offered any details, about what they believe motivated the former president. We also don’t know how vast the collection of classified material at Mar-a-Lago was, the specific circumstances under which Trump might be charged and who had access to the Mar-a-Lago storage facility where Trump allegedly kept the classified documents. Read more here.

USA TODAY politics reporters want to talk to you – the voter – about what you really need to know about the upcoming election. Join us for breaking political updates.

Real quick: stories you'll want to read

  • Live updates on Wyoming, Alaska primaries: Notable names in the Republican Party, Rep. Liz Cheney, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former governor Sarah Palin, are all on the ballot in primary elections Tuesday.

  • Russian officials blame "sabotage" for Crimea explosions: Massive explosions and fires ripped through Crimea on Tuesday, forcing 3,000 residents to flee their homes as the war in Ukraine appears to be spreading to the peninsula occupied by Russia since 2014.

  • Trump Org CFO to plead guilty: Donald Trump's longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg is expected to plead guilty as soon as Thursday in a tax evasion case that is the only criminal prosecution to arise from a long-running investigation into the former president's company.

  • Victory or vacuum in Afghanistan? President Biden said the drone strike that killed an al-Qaida leader is vindication of his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Experts say it highlights the vacuum created by the U.S. exit.

Pentagon defends mentor program amid fresh scrutiny

A lucrative Pentagon contracting program in which retired officers serve as "senior mentors" is under fresh scrutiny, despite reforms that required retired generals and admirals to disclose possible conflicts of interest.

The Pentagon employs about 80 retired generals and admirals, at around $90 an hour, to advise current commanders involved war games and other military activities. USA TODAY reviewed financial disclosure forms of 77 senior mentors and found only a few working for defense contractors – a problem that had plagued the program when it was loosely regulated and conflicts of interest abounded.

But the revamped senior mentor program appears to be staffed almost entirely by men, the vast majority of them white, even as the Pentagon for several years has sought to develop leaders who reflect the diversity of the armed forces and the nation.

Recent controversies: One of the retired officers, Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, was suspended after mocking first lady Jill Biden on Twitter. A second mentor, Lt. Gen. David Huntoon, inappropriately used his aides to staff private charity events, feed a friend's cats and provide driver's lessons, according to a 2012 investigation by the Pentagon's watchdog.

“This is the crux of the problem with many in our military: They refuse to play by the rules and are allowed to get away with it,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, who chairs the House Armed Services Military Personnel subcommittee.

“I expect to be briefed on the so-called mentor-mentee program. If it is a post-retirement sweetener for military brass, it not only offends me and the American taxpayer, it suggests a culture that continues the good ol’ boy network of feathering the nest of the elite officers no matter what."

First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday, after testing negative on Monday. Read more about how the first lady is doing here. -- Amy and Ella

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: OnPolitics: FBI, law enforcement threats rise after Mar-a-Lago search